A new school year has begun here in the US and that means parents will be chasing the kids down for forgotten homework, crumpled permission slips and library books that were due weeks ago. Not to mention the trail of shoes, hats, jackets and backpacks, which, in my house at least, lead to the refrigerator. Save yourself some frustration — and teach the kids responsibility at the same time — by creating a “landing area” for all their stuff.
When I was young, my sisters and I were often late for school because we spent too much time in the morning running around like headless chickens who can’t find their Trapper Keepers. Such drama is easily avoided with a little planning and practice. It begins with picking the right spot for a landing area in your home.
Pick The Perfect Spot
Your kid’s landing area won’t be effective if it isn’t in the right spot. Finding that spot isn’t as easy as it sounds. The key is to identify an area of your home that’s in the arrival traffic pattern, preferably the very beginning. It’s tempting to consider a beautiful desk or cubby that’s far from the door. (Or even Jr.’s bedroom.) But, if Jr. is anything like my kids, he’ll either create a path between the door and his room, or lose his stuff somewhere in between.
My wife and I have identified a small cabinet just inside the back door to our house (no one uses the front door unless they’re selling something). Now, the kids enter and just as they’re tempted to shed their backpacks, hats, gloves and coats like molting snakes, they see the table right in their path.
Set It Up
When setting it all up, consider what you’ve got to capture. The list will likely change as the seasons do, so keep that in mind. If you live in an area that experiences the highs and lows of the four seasons, leave room for bulky winter clothing. Here’s the list of items we’ve accommodated for, and where each one goes.
- Backpacks. The young student’s staple. We bought a small, child-sized coat tree from a discount department store to hold two backpacks. It works great and, since the backpacks are all that the tree holds, it handles their bulk easily.
- Clothing. We went Shaker-style here and I put two rows of wooden pegs on the wall, one above the other. There’s plenty of room for hats, coats, gloves and scarves.
- An “inbox” for school-to-home communication. This one is a biggie. If my 9-year-old were a super hero, her power would be losing papers, permission slips and notes in a single bound. A simple plastic in-tray from an office supply store fits the bill here. Now when she and her brother arrive home, they move papers, etc. from their backpacks to the inbox (more on encouraging this behavior later).
- An “outbox” for home-to-school communication. As you know, some forms must be returned to school. Place them in “Out,” and have Jr. check it at night before going to bed.
- A snack/lunch bag area. I’d love to say that I make lunches and snacks the night before and keep them in the ’fridge, but that’s called lying. After hastily putting these items together at 7:00 AM, I plop them in the bag area on the table. The kids then toss them into their backpacks.
- Library books. After receiving a few threatening letters from school librarians last year, I’ve designated a spot for library books. The rule is, if you see one there, place it in your backpack.
A landing area is all well and good only if it gets used. You can help that happen with a little behavior motivation. Prior to my career as a professional geek, I worked as a special needs teacher. We used the Applied Behavior Analysis model of instruction, and today I use some of the same techniques in my parenting. In this case, a contract system will work wonders. Here’s how to set it up.
Explain the landing area to the kids and let them see it. Tell them how it works and why you’re going to use it. Then, set up the contract. For example, I have a simple dry erase board that onto which I’ve drawn two rows of five squares. For every day that the kids put away their stuff and empty their backpacks before descending upon the house, they get a star in a block. If there are five stars at the end of the week, they receive a small treat.
Note: it’s important to pair praise and affection with the treat. That way, you can eventually stop using the contract and reward (that is the goal, after all) as your hugs and appreciation will be enough to maintain the behavior.
That’s it! Good luck setting up your landing area. Understand that it won’t work perfectly every day, or even every week, but keep at it and save yourself and your kids some frustration. You’ll probably be very glad you did.